We spent part of Labor Day 2012 in extreme southern San Diego County, looking for a “mythical” Crested Caracara. Our seach covered the sod farms and Dairy Mart Ponds. It even included Border Fields State Park right to the ocean. We checked out every Red-tailed, Red-shouldered and Cooper’s Hawk in view, but the National Bird of Mexico gave us the slip yet again. Instead, it another Mexican bird claimed our attention. We stopped at the community garden off Hollister and found a group of 3 or 4 Black-throated Magpie-Jays. What a striking bird!! At roughly 2 feet in length including the tail, Black-throated Magpie-Jays are huge! They show gorgeous azure plumage with a black chest, cheek and crest set off against white underparts.
A Gorgeous Exotic
These birds show many classic characteristics of the jay family including garrulous behavior and roguish personality. As it turns out, they share another annoying jay trait: the ability to avoid a camera most of the time! We saw one flock of at least 11 of these birds. The one pictured is probably a sub-adult. Note the white at the tips of the crest and the pale nape. It’s still evolving the darker blue of an adult bird. The adults have a completely black crest and a nape that is the same blue as the back. We talked with other San Diego birders and heard things like “Oh, that’s a yard bird in my neighborhood.”
That suggests that the population of these jays is larger and less local than you might think. Jays are smart and adaptable birds. For now, experts treat Black-throated Magpie-Jay as an escapee or a released bird. But if juveniles and sub-adults begin showing up in numbers, they may be here to stay! The Black-throated Magpie-Jay was digiscoped with a Kowa TSN-883 spotting scope, a Sayegh Digidapter for Kowa TE-10Z and TE-11WZ, and a Kowa TE-11WZ 25-60x Zoom Eyepiece.